Friday, August 26, 2016

Collectible Elvis bites the dust

Things occasionally happen around the house that, in the grand scheme of things, don't really matter but can still make you feel bad.

For example, I recently broke a bowl.

It wasn't a great bowl, not a family heirloom or anything, but it was a bowl I used most days and my heart sank when I dropped it. For a split second, I imagined myself gluing it back together — it broke into quite large pieces — but I've moved beyond that as a solution to a broken dish and I stoically swept it up and put it in the garbage.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, my new white blouse got put into the drier by mistake. The clothes would normally be on the clothesline but it was a showery day and so the drier was pulled into emergency use. I'm sure I assumed the blouse was a man-made fabric, just made for a drier but it turns out the blouse is 100% cotton. I knew as soon as I looked at it that it hadn't enjoyed its trip in the drier. It was the broken-dish-on-the-kitchen-floor feeling all over again.

As it happened, I gave it a little iron-therapy which may have stretched it out — it was the length that was effected — and although it might not be perfect, I think it will probably be wearable.

These are small things though and I mention them only to try to lead up to a comparison.

Because then, there's this:

Please look at this very closely. Click on it to enlarge. That's a 78 rpm record of early Elvis — on one side Blue Moon of Kentucky, on the other That's All Right. It's a classic and it's a victim of many moves and many boxes since it left my parents' basement many years ago. Our joint record collection has now been dealt with as we begin the marathon of trying to get rid of decades worth of stuff. This wasn't the only 78 that didn't make it but it was the most notable.

I went to some of the collectors' sites to see what they'd think of this record. The original recording of these two songs was on Sun Records with the yellow label. Someone would pay you a few hundred dollars for that one. By the time RCA Victor got its hands on it and put the black label on it, it lost value and you might get $50 for it. There's also more than one RCA Victor label and they're also considered to be different values.

I wasn't going for a payday anyway and would never have got around to sending it away to some collector in Tennessee or wherever. I just liked the idea of having a collector's item, even if I wasn't doing anything with it.

I can still listen to Elvis. Our music supply is, I guess, simpler to access nowadays. It's certainly more portable. This is the exact device I listen to music with. It's a few years old now so it's probably obsolete but it works really well and it runs on a triple e battery. It's tiny and easy, not nearly as cumbersome as a turntable and a stack of records.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A middle-of-the-night knock on my trailer door

The story I'm going to tell you took place in a trailer park. It could have happened anywhere — it does — but I was living in a trailer park at the time so that's the setting.

It wasn't a bad trailer park, not the worst I've ever seen, but there is — by definition — something a little depressing about some trailer parks. This one looked something like this:

I liked the trailer I lived in. It was cozy and comfortable and had that efficient compactness that trailers are known for. Its previous owner had built on a room so it didn't feel so much like a train car as it had the extra dimension. I kept the curtains drawn at night because I think my neighbours were okay but there's often an undesirable element in those neighbourhoods and I didn't want to take chances.

One night, I had been out covering an event for the newspaper — the Miramichi Leader — and I got home late. I was reading and having a drink to wind down when a discreet knock sounded at the door. I almost couldn't be sure I had heard it. I opened the door and a young woman with three small children was standing there — two little ones on foot, one a babe-in-arms. The children were in pyjamas. It was 2:00 a.m.

I asked her if something was wrong — pretty stupid question — and she asked if they could come in for a few minutes. "It won't be long, I promise you," she said. Of course I let her in and we went to the living room. She continued to hold the baby but the two little kids — I think they were girls but I could be misremembering — so tired they could barely stand, curled up together on one end of the couch and went fast asleep.

The young woman was attractive and well-spoken. She was clearly embarrassed but she must have felt she owed me some kind of explanation.

She said that her husband had been out that evening. She had put the children to bed and she herself was lying down but had not undressed. Her husband arrived home very drunk. He came into the bedroom and told her to get up. He was noisy and raucous. She tried to quiet him down and told him he was going to awaken the children. He told her to get the children out of there. It was his house and no one was going to tell him what to do. He just kept yelling: "Go on! Get them up! Get them out of here!"

She had had enough experience with him not to try to fight him so she did what he said. She woke the children and put sweaters on them and he put them all out on to the street. She began to walk and didn't look back. She lived four or five trailers up the road from me and when she saw my light, she took a chance.

Thank goodness.

She said he would pass out before long and she promised she wouldn't take the children back in until it was safe. I asked her about calling police; she said she had called the police once but as he hadn't really done anything, there was nothing they could do. Their advice was pretty much what she was already doing — see if she could stay out of his way until the danger had passed.

We chatted and she told me, as I heard so many times before from different women, that when he was sober, he was a lovely man — a good husband, a wonderful father. She could sense when a episode such as the one we were going through was going to happen. When he left earlier in the evening and said he was going for a few drinks, she was dreading his return but she was mentally prepared. I asked her how often this sort of thing happened and she said not more than once a month. And sometimes it was much worse than other times. This particular night was quite bad.

I asked her if she ever thought of leaving him and she said no, no, she would be afraid to leave him, afraid of what he might do.

This was a very brave young woman.

After about half an hour, she asked me if I'd be okay with the kids while she went to check the homefront. I was fine and off she went. She was back in five minutes and said he was sound asleep and they were safe to go home. I asked if I could help with the children but I knew she didn't want me anywhere near her home so she woke the little ones again and off they went into the night. I told her not to hesitate if she needed to come back another time.

I saw her a couple of times over the next few months — both times with her husband and the three children. They were out walking, the little girls picking flowers along the side of the road.

The mother and father talked quietly. She didn't acknowledge me and I didn't expect her to.

I think they may have moved away in the months following. I was not around that much, working long hours at the paper and I didn't really get to know the neighbours. I still think about her though and I'm reminded to think about her by the headlines on a regular basis. The most recent headline was two days ago:

Father named as the shooter in Pennsylvania murder-suicide of family

The story is so familiar: the frightened woman who had been abused and was making plans to move out, the man who buys a gun but before he kills his family and himself, takes the children on an outing to a theme park. These stories appear so often, they run together in our heads.

The district attorney in this case said, "I don't know that anything can be learned other than when leaving an abusive relationship, it's often a very dangerous time for a victim. So, we urge anyone who's in a similar situation to develop a safety plan and contact their local domestic violence agency for assistance."

There should be a better way to handle this than by saying, "we urge anyone who's in a similar situation to develop a safety plan."

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Simon's big bang performance as Cosmé McMoon

We saw the movie Florence Foster Jenkins today.

In the 1940s, New York socialite Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) dreams of becoming a great opera singer. Unfortunately, her ambition far exceeds her talent. The voice Florence hears in her head is beautiful, but to everyone else it is quite lousy. Her husband St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) goes to extreme lengths to make sure his wife never finds out how awful she truly is. When Florence announces her plans for a concert at Carnegie Hall, St. Clair soon realizes that he's facing his greatest challenge yet.

I don't know what more can be said about Meryl Streep. She's surely acknowledged to be the greatest actress of our time — and if there were an Olympics of acting, she'd win the gold medal every time out. (She's been nominated for 19 Oscars, more than any other person in history. Why she hasn't won 19 Oscars will always be a mystery to me.)

She plays the lovable, eccentric, generous Florence with just an edge of foolish but never enough that you lose respect or affection for her. Florence is a woman who loves music with such passion that it rules her life and her relationships and her very self-image. Meryl walks a careful line and gives us a beautiful character.

And Hugh Grant? I've always liked Hugh Grant. His reputation has taken a few hits but I've always enjoyed his acting. I always found him quite romantic. He plays Florence's loyal loving spouse while living in a very familiar way with a pretty young woman a taxi-ride away.

But the real joy in this movie is the actor who plays Cosmé McMoon, Florence's accompanist as she pursues her dream of singing opera.

Do you recognize him? This is Simon Helberg, best known as Howard Wolowitz on TV's The Big Bang Theory. Simon plays Cosmé with an innocent, intelligent, funny personality — and a different voice and different face from Howard's. Not only that, he plays the piano. He had studied piano to the level of concert pianist and that secured the acting job for him. He's an amazing choice and I can't say enough about his wonderful performance.

He was paralyzed with nerves when they went to Carnegie Hall but he came through in a professional and loving way for Florence. By then he had become a co-conspirator with St. Clair to keep from Florence the awful truth of what a terrible singer she was.

It's a sweet movie. It's well-written, well-acted, funny and it's a tear-jerker. I enjoyed it a lot and if you haven't seen it, maybe you would too.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The day George W. galloped into town

In late 2004, the President of the United States of America came to Halifax. I had almost forgotten about the visit until I came across this short account in my archives. This was written for the progressive Catholic newspaper called Catholic New Times. I was clearly struck by how easily public opinion swung toward George W. Bush just by virtue of a quick visit and a couple of jokes. It explains a lot.

So. . . George W. Bush came to Halifax. They told us he was coming to say thanks for all the help we provided to Americans on September 11, 2001. (That’s 2001.)

Before he even got here, our premier, John Hamm told us to be polite and give him a warm Nova Scotian welcome – do it the “Nova Scotian way,” he said. Our mayor and the chief of police said that we were allowed to demonstrate but we must be peaceful and show respect for a duly-elected leader of a democratic country.

By the time he left, I felt that I had been patted on the head with condescension so many times that I had to go get my hair done. As usual, that made me feel better which was a good thing because by the time he left, I was feeling deflated and somewhat discouraged.

He travelled from the airport in his husky bullet-proof limo, accompanied by a couple of kilometres of entourage. They all scooted through an emptied-out downtown Halifax, and scuttled up to the back door of Pier 21 – avoiding the 4000 (well-behaved) protesters.

I borrowed this photo from The Marxist-Leninist Daily

The people awaiting George within Pier 21 had been there for over three hours (no food, no coffee), having been admitted after a strict security clearance. In retrospect, it may not be so surprising that, the instant he appeared, he was given a standing ovation.

Then he made the speech – the one that got lots of laughs and applause with hockey and Jean Poutine jokes – and went on to scold Canadians for not going to his war and for disapproving of his missile defence plan. He finished and he got another standing ovation. Then he left.

But not before something disconcerting happened. Within hours, it was clear that there was a different feeling in the air about George Bush. Pundits and people and passers-by were saying, “Well, he doesn’t seem too bad.” I sensed that our edge was gone – that suddenly, people felt that … “well, it’s true that we have to put up with him for four more years but at least he came here and paid attention to us and he was kind of funny. And he said thank you.”

The following day, the editorialists mostly focused on how well-behaved the protesters were and how polite everyone had been. There was much about how important it is to have good relations with the U.S., no matter what – trade, you know. There was almost nothing about Bush’s hateful ideology, his murderous war, his harmful tax cuts. There was just a superficial observation about how good his researchers must be (well, he quoted Mackenzie King!) and how charming he is and a Great Communicator too. I shake my head – but then, I never “got” Ronald Reagan either; he always seemed to me to be just some duffus who was orchestrated by someone else – oh, that sounds familiar.

The worst thing about Bush’s visit – and for this, I blame the premier, the mayor, the chief of police and the media (which mostly paid little attention to the protests – they were peaceful, remember) – is that the Bush-supporters have now come out of their caves in brave numbers. They have come out not only to uphold Bush’s policies but to insult, in the clearest possible terms, the 4000 Nova Scotians who went downtown to protest the visit.

One columnist, Rick Howe at The Daily News, compiled a list of what the protesters have been called, after the fact: “whiners, kiddies, slobs, wingnuts, yahoos, lazy, shiftless, homeless, ignorant, socialists and idiots.”

I wait patiently now for the premier, the mayor, the chief of police and the media to pat the Bush-supporters on the head and suggest that they be polite, that they express themselves in the “Nova Scotian way.” Then I will sit back and wait to see how the brutal, intolerable philosophy of the Bush administration can be defended with any kind of rational argument.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Richard Hatfield: A colourful NB flashback

(Back in the winter, I shared a piece I had written about Alden Nowlan: The poet from Desolation Creek, Nova Scotia. Alden and the Premier of New Brunswick at the time, Richard Hatfield, were good friends. Richard was a regular at Alden's, hob-nobbing with poets and novelists and artists. I met him there often and always enjoyed his company. I took a special interest in this book and this is a review I wrote when it was published in 1992.)

Richard Hatfield: Power and Disobedience

Michel Cormier & Achille Michaud (publisher: Goose Lane Editions)

This is a terrific book. Authors Michel Cormier and Achille Michaud have captured an era in New Brunswick political history that is as lively as good daily journalism and as relevant as good history.

In spite of the title, the book isn’t a biography of Richard Hatfield in any strict sense; it’s a picture of a province through a changing time, with Hatfield at the centre and the usual cast of characters peopling the inner circle, the outer circle, the margins and the fringes. How can anyone say New Brunswick is dull?

Both authors were journalists in New Brunswick during part of Hatfield’s tenure but they didn’t decide to write the book until 1985, the year the premier went on trial for possession of marijuana. They used a combination of interviews, archives and personal observations to put together this work, originally published in French by Editions Libre Expression. The translation is by Daphne Ponder. (Cormier is now Ottawa correspondent for CBC Radio’s Sunday Morning and Michaud is the Toronto correspondent for Radio-Canada’s Le Point.)

Hatfield was certainly one of the more interesting premiers in our country in the recent past and all the predictable stories are here: Bricklin, kickbacks and Francis Atkinson, the doll collection, the membership in the Parti Quebecois and the bizarre toast to the Princess of Wales and, of course, the marijuana affair. Some of the stories are more familiar (and more frivolous) that others but all, especially the chapter about the Atkinson affair, are meticulously researched and clearly presented.

Hatfield with Bricklin

Other stories (and I was a journalist in New Brunswick and knew Richard Hatfield socially) are less familiar; the authors had good sources and have an engaging way with anecdotes.

Maybe the most interesting thing these authors bring to the book is their own Acadian background. Not a lot has been written for English-speaking readers about the political dynamics of the Acadian communities and the relationship Hatfield was able to build with them – which most certainly was one factor in his longevity as premier.

Not so his administrative skills. The book is riddled with examples of his carelessness in running his government, his lack of interest in how things get done. One typical story involved the hiring of Marcel Mass‚ as deputy minister of finance in 1973. Mass, an economic advisor in Pierre Trudeau’s office, was interviewed for the position and went back to Ottawa:

“Four months later...Hatfield called Mass‚ and said, ‘You start as deputy minister of finance in two weeks.’ Taken aback, Mass‚ explained that he needed more time to resign from the Prime Minister’s Office, sell his house and discuss the move with his wife. ‘That’s your problem,’ Hatfield replied, apparently amused. Before hanging up, Hatfield asked Mass‚ to draw up his own employment contract because he was not sure of the responsibilities of a deputy minister of finance.”

The authors observe that he preferred to forget about day-to-day problems or let them be dealt with by others – or not. “Not only was he more interested in principles than in their application, but he also believed that it was up to individuals to demand their rights...”

Certainly Hatfield was a charming and engaging man and his life makes for an interesting story but a reader coming to New Brunswick politics for the first time must wonder how anything got done in the province, how any progress could be made. And in truth, many things didn’t get done; progress was limited to one or two areas of Hatfield’s special interest.

There was an ambivalence about Hatfield in the province which I think these authors understand very well. Some people voted for his governments because to vote for another party was not an option to be considered.

They were your lifelong Tories. The Liberal party went through several destructive changes during the ‘70s making them a less desirable alternative than they would become later. But Hatfield was able to stitch together odds and ends of support to bolster the core Tories and some of the Acadian communities to win four consecutive terms – unprecedented in New Brunswick. (His final election, when he lost every seat to the Liberals, has also gone into the record books.)

This book is beautifully written – and beautifully translated. In a passage about former Liberal leader, Joe Daigle: “He was respected for his integrity and discipline, and for the long hours he worked on the public’s behalf, but only in the way a boring priest is called a saintly man. His appointment to the bench at the age of thirty-five seemed less an impressive career advancement than a sign that he had grown old too early.”

In this day and age, it’s a wonderful thing to read a book that has all the words spelled right and is almost completely devoid of editing inaccuracies. (Okay, IODE stands for Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire, not International etc. etc. In the authors’ defence, this is an organization not commonly found in Acadian communities.) In general, Goose Lane has made an attractive, readable book – with photographs interspersed rather than bunched in the middle.

Oh yes. Some of you want to know how the question of Hatfield’s sexuality was handled. And these authors have added little to the discussion on the eternal question: was Hatfield gay? They asked him, choosing their words carefully and assuring him (and us) that their only reason for asking was because it had become an issue in the last campaign. His response was vintage Hatfield:

“If it was a factor in 1987, it was also in 1982 and 1978. In 1978, Joe Daigle made an accusation he retracted because of the adverse reaction to it. So regardless of what they may have said or what they may have whispered, you know, sometimes people would tell me things and sometimes they wouldn’t. But it never bothered me. I had a very generous respect for the people.”

People in New Brunswick knew that, I think. That would be another reason for his political success over such a long period.

The book is still available and anyone interested in looking back at fairly recent history would definitely enjoy it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A shocking view that still hurts to read

This column was shocking when I wrote it for The Daily News back in 1991. We had just returned from a trip to Spain and it took me back to earlier trips to Spain and some of my observations and experiences of those times.

It's still shocking today. It so clearly explains how prejudice and bigotry exist and thrive. I'm sure if I read the entries in the Encyclopedia Britannica of today, they would be very different but think how many generations of people read the entries as I quote from them below.

When we were in Italy a few years ago, we encountered gypsies – still called gypsies in many places – who seemed to live much the same way in Rome and Florence as we had observed in Granada almost 30 years ago. The prejudice is still very strong. There remains in many countries an antipathy toward the Roma people, including Canada.

I remember strolling up the hill toward the Alhambra in Granada on one of my earlier trips to Spain and being presented with a flower by a charming, laughing gypsy woman. I accepted it with pleasure, thinking what a nice hospitable country this was, when she demanded payment from my (male) companion. He hadn't noticed any of this and was taken aback by her aggressiveness but things were sorted out, the woman was paid, and I decided I might as well enjoy my flower. I was a little embarrassed that I had so easily assumed it was a gift.

I've never accepted another one although the flower vendors – women and children – are as much in evidence on the streets of Granada today as they were 20 years ago. Some of them could be the same ones, I suppose. They still thrust the flowers at women travellers and then turn to the men for the payment – “por amore!” they say, both loud and pathetic at the same time.

The Granada gypsies live outside the city in the mountains. In fact, an old guide book I came across lists them as one of the tourist attractions: “Granada is protected by the north by the Albaicin, where a large colony of gypsies live in caves – complete with electric lights and telephones! Make a trip there and perhaps see them dancing in their colourful costumes.”

That particular guide doesn't say watch out for your wallet, although another guide I read recently warned of groups of young gypsy boys in certain areas who, the book said, are accomplished pickpockets.

Gypsies are not a people I've thought too much about although I was once fairly well-acquainted with Ron Lee, author of the acclaimed book Goddam Gypsy.

But after returning from Spain this time, I kept thinking about them – they live not only in Granada, of course, but are also seen in the other cities, usually street vending.

I read bits and pieces about gypsies here and there, and then went to that definitive tool of research, the Encyclopedia Britannica. Now I must explain that my Encyclopedia Britannica is quite old. The only reason I have it is because the high school in Chatham, N,B, was being converted into an elementary school and someone called and told me that many books – including a complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica – was being taken to the dump. Imagine! So I went and rescued it. This set was revised in 1960.

Anyway...I looked up gypsies. I read some interesting things: for example, says E.B., the gypsies were originally a low caste people of India whose language is related to Sanskrit. They dispersed throughout Europe, retaining a common language but integrating it with the language of the cultures they lived among.

So far, so good. I first began to get uncomfortable when I read this: “...When the gypsies first entered Europe, they were confused with another group whose descendants, called Jevgjit, are found in Albania living in humble houses. The Jevgjit have clean habits; they are reddish-brown in color, have oval faces and have little in common with the gypsies.”

I went through a rather long and rambling history of the gypsies and then arrived at a section titled “Characteristics, Customs and Crafts.” The first sentence says: “The mental age of an average adult gypsy is thought to be about that of a child of ten.”

Excuse me?

I went on to read:”Gypsies have never accomplished anything of great significance in writing, painting, musical composition, science or social organization. What culture they possess has been thrust upon them from outside.”

A little further down, there was this: “A common gypsy conception of paradise is a place where there is plenty to eat.”

A few sentences on, written in a really patronizing fashion, this: “...They ply trades which members of established society find either humiliating or unprofitable...their small earnings are in general sufficient to satisfy their simple needs.”

And this list of their trades, although it's clearly pointed out that, except for these, they don't know much about anything: “...they're trough makers, blacksmiths, farriers, kettlesmiths, tinkers, riveters, combmakers, makers of wooden spoons, spindle makers, sieve makers, matmakers, basketmakers, hacklers, bagmakers, musicians, bear trainers, dealers in wool and cattle, jugglers, horse dealers, circus players and there are a few lawyers.”

Oh, where to stop? This leaves me speechless. This is the Encyclopedia Britannica, not the National Enquirer!

“Quarrelsome, quick to anger or laughter, they are unthinkingly but not deliberately cruel...They betray little shame, curiosity, surprise or grief and show no solidarity.”

Ron Lee was a bitter, angry man when I knew him. No wonder. I wonder whatever became of him?* As for me, if I'd read this before, I suppose I'd have bought every flower ever offered to me on the way to the Alhambra.

*After I read "I wonder whatever became of him?" I browsed around to see what I could find. Ronald Lee's website is called and it looks really interesting with lots of information and articles. I was really happy to find it; it cheered me up immensely. I hope you go visit the website. He was presented an honourary laws degree by Queen's University in 2014. Sometimes there are happy endings.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Food, football, friends — on an evening in summer

We had Cousin Dale (Estey) and his friend Lorna over last week. We were very anxious to meet Lorna and, of course, we wanted to make a good impression. We knew she had been a Shakespearean scholar at Cambridge and she’s a huge fan of football (footy! soccer!) and opera. We were pretty sure there would be no shortage of conversation.

With that in mind, I thought I should concentrate on the food. We had been having very hot days and I was pretty sure no one would want to sit down to a hot dinner. I knew for sure that I didn't want to cook a hot dinner.

I'm mildly obsessed with getting things done in advance. In fact, I've been known to go too far. Once, when we were serving a delicious pâté with crackers as an appetizer, I took matters into my own hands and before the guests arrived, I prepared a lovely plate of crackers with the pâté already spread. Don't try this. By the time the guests tried to pick up a cracker, they had all wilted like dead flowers and were just about as appetizing.

I've learned a lot since then and I'm pretty good now to know what can be done in advance. I started by making some beautiful lemony aïoli.

The recipe is from one of my favourite cookbooks which I wrote about here.

The aïoli can be made by hand, with a mortar and pestle and a whisk but, as you can see, I took the easy route and used the food processor.

At this point (above), the only thing left to do is add the lemon juice, to taste.

And there it is, in all its finished glory. I have to say, the garlic was very strong and when I took my first taste, I was quite impressed with the statement the aïoli made. It was hot but very tasty.

Because I stay up late anyway, I decided to cook into the night. I roasted some potatoes and barbecued some chicken to be ready for salad-making the next day.

Happily, everything was ready by the time our guests arrived and after a very short time, I think we all felt we'd known Lorna forever. As predicted, the conversation was wide-ranging and interesting.

Dan and I are not huge fans of football — he knows much more about it than I do — but we often like to share a broad global experience with others around the world so we did watch, on our giant TV, the final game of Euro 2016 between France and Portugal. The game was played at the Stade de France, the same stadium where terrorists had attacked just a few months before. France was a sentimental favourite. It was widely felt that a win would begin the healing process for the country which was still hurting.

I felt that way too and I was leaning toward France until Dan told me that this was Portugal's 30th appearance in a final and they'd yet to win. Oh dear. Imagine how those fans must have been feeling. I began to waver back and forth in my team favouritism and I realized at a certain point that I would happily accept either team as the champion. When Portugal won 1-0 in extra time, I was thinking of their fans and of their country and what it must have felt like for them.

I told Lorna this but she couldn't agree. Lorna and her sister had been watching the international friendly match between France and Germany on November 13, 2015, when the attacks happened. Like those who were in the stadium, people watching on television didn't know about the attacks until much later and by then, the extent of the death and destruction had become known. For Lorna, that game for France was very much tied up with that awful night.

This doesn't sound terribly cheerful but in general, our evening was fun and we discovered a lot about each other.

Our appetizer for this evening — which was assembled in advance and which didn't involve crackers — was smoked salmon and cream cheese on cucumber slices:

The aïoli and the roasted potatoes teamed up to make a pretty salad. . .

. . .and the barbecued chicken, in the company of prosciutto, olives, red onion, broccoli and tomatoes held its own.

I've spent a lot of time and space discussing the food and although food matters, the people we share it with are the most important element of a good evening. Making a new friend always feels good.

Flowers from Lorna. That's Her Majesty behind the flowers — solar-powered — waving in the window.